Functional Bodybuilding – How to Improve Movement, Performance and Aesthetics with Marcus Filly

"It’s time to shift the pendulum back, help people define what intensity is right for them, and show them alternative ways of training that keep them functional, but also honor age old training principles that help people stay healthy, balanced and strong."

FUNCTIONAL BODYBUILDING

Robbie Wild Hudson: What exactly is functional bodybuilding for you Marcus?

Marcus Filly: Functional Bodybuilding is a training philosophy and a movement that can benefit anyone in the fitness community. The essence of the movement is that training shouldn’t constantly beat you down, but rather build you up and make you feel great. As the functional fitness community has evolved in the past years to embrace intensity as a goal in and of itself, we have seen more and more people suffering from burnout and injury. It’s time to shift the pendulum back, help people define what intensity is right for them, and show them alternative ways of training that keep them functional, but also honor age old training principles that help people stay healthy, balanced and strong.

Why is a strong foundation of technique and good movement important for Crossfitters and Athletes in general?

How we move through life and the way we utilize our bodies will dictate what adaptations we undergo over time. If we don’t move and are sedentary then we will become decrepit and sick as we age. If we move regularly, uphold great mechanics in our day to day lives and training, and eat a quality diet, then we can experience vitality and high quality of life as we age.

If we agree that the above stated is true, then within the later part of that description, we can choose to move well, or choose to move poorly. Layering a strong foundation in technique and movement mechanics is one way to ensure that our joints can remain healthy and we can therefore continue to move and train into old age.

Secondly, quality movement will ultimately stimulate a stronger adaptive response to the body and in turn help athletes move towards their goals faster, whether that’s body composition, health, or performance goals.

You feature many unilateral exercises in your training, why are these so effective?

First, it helps to understand a little bit about why bilateral or barbell movements have been a bias in the past many years. The barbell has been popularized in the past 10 years by CrossFit more so than any other fitness movement that I know of. Barbells take up less space in the gym than a full set of dumbbells. It is easier to supply a class of 20 people with barbells than with 20 full sets of dumbbells.

Unilateral training has been a key principle in strength and conditioning programs for years. Our joints move independently of one another in most movements of life. They must apply different forces at different times. Training unilaterally allows us to ensure we are developing our joints equally. Most athletes have a stronger side based upon how they have moved throughout their lives. Training with barbells or bilaterally sometimes doesn’t expose these imbalances or help to correct them. Therefore unilateral training needs to be a staple in most clients’ designs.

You include static hold variations and many other exercises to help improve the brain muscle connection for athletes (single leg Sorensen for example). Why is the brain muscle connection important?

The brain muscle connection is the first stage in strength development. Creating nervous system connections to the muscles is what we see babies do as they develop. Their movements start out a little spastic as they are trying to figure out how to get their brain signals to coordinate with the movements they want to achieve. Then those movements smooth out over time as the brain development occurs and mind-muscle connections happen. At that point they can begin to get stronger and support themselves more and more.

The same process needs to happen with athletes and in fitness.

As we introduce new movement patterns, we must ensure the static strength or stability strength is there to support strength development. Isometrics and static holds are the environment where it is easiest for an athlete to feel what is working. Flexing your muscles in the mirror is essentially the same too. 

As we develop into more advanced athletes, it is also worthwhile to revisit these static patterns almost as if you are rebooting your computer. It helps deepen these connections and correct any hardware misfiring that might be going on.

What lessons from Bodybuilding have you found to be especially useful for your CrossFit training?

Bodybuilding taught me how to connect my brain to my muscles. As stated in the previous questions, this mind-muscle connection is so important to getting the most out of muscle contractions and having awareness of where you are in space.

Bodybuilding has also taught me the value of volume training at moderate intensity levels. A typical bodybuilding routine consists of loads that are not near maximum for the athletes, performed over longer sets and time under tension. When coupled with full range of motion, this principle helps build strong tendons and ligaments around joints and supports the faster, more dynamic contractions that happen in CrossFit.

What lessons from CrossFit have you found helpful for Bodybuilding?

Most notably, range of motion. Seeing the full range of how our joints can move and the positions that we can get into has informed much of the bodybuilding work I do. If bodybuilding gets a bad reputation for one thing, it is often that bodybuilders “cheat” their reps. It isn’t cheating since there is a specific goal of muscle hypertrophy, not full range of motion. But I have found that the full range of motion we see in functional fitness adds a layer of longevity to the training, feels much better for the athlete, and can ultimately yield the same body composition goals along with great functionality.

Throwback to Murph. This was a big turning point in the weekend for me. Around the second round of Murph I was literally as close as I've ever been to wanting to quit. I momentarily lost sight of my "Why". I couldn't make sense of what I was doing, why I was putting myself through the discomfort, and walking off the field through the tunnel was feeling like a great option. Finishing 21st place wasn't my victory on this event. Rather, finishing at all was my victory. It isn't the first time I've gotten lost in my head during competition or training. The one more rep mentality and the positive self talk got me through yet again. A great reminder to myself to always check in with my "Why" as I start down a difficult road. #KnowYourWhy #RevivalOfTheFittest #HonorTheJourney 📸 @treywhit

A post shared by Marcus Filly (@marcusfilly) on

Many Crossfitters are not motivated primarily by performance. Aesthetics play an important role as well, how do you take this into account with your clients and training methodology?

You are absolutely right. In my experience, most clients are first concerned with their body composition, and only later learn to care about how well they perform. Therefore, measuring body composition is one of the first things we do with all of our onsite clients. Secondly, we engage in a nutrition conversation very early on before training gets too far underway.

Lastly, we are careful not to give clients that want to lose body fat too much intensity in their training. Intensity is a stress to the body and if the client is already stressed out from life/work/family, and are holding onto belly fat as a result, then a stressful training protocol won’t do them any good.

Crossfit places much less emphasis on rotational movements than other sports such as boxing or football (soccer) for example. Can you give us 3 movements that you would recommend to improve strength and control through this type of movement?

Landmine Twists

Tall Kneeling Paloff Press

Half Kneeling Low to High Chop

TRAINING

Roughly, what does your own personal training program look like at the moment?

Currently my training program looks like the following.

  • Monday AM – Mixed Modal Circuits – Aerobic Focus
  • Monday PM – Squatting Leg focused training
  • Tuesday AM – Longer Monostructural Cardio
  • Tuesday PM – Snatch/Clean with Gymnastics density work
  • Wednesday AM – Running Intervals
  • Wednesday PM – Jerk + Overhead Work + Longer Nasty Grinder Workouts
  • Thursday – REST RECOVER WORK
  • Friday AM – Longer Cardio Intervals (bike, run, ski, row)
  • Friday PM – Deadlifting + Advanced Upper Gymnastics and Grinder work
  • Saturday AM – Interval Gymnastics Training
  • Saturday PM – Speed Squat Work + Leg volume
  • Sunday – REST RECOVER FAMILY

How did that look when you were training for the Games last year?

During Games training things shift a lot more to doing classic CrossFit workouts. In a given week I will probably do about 10-12 CrossFit workouts along with running and swimming volume training.

If you could program one Event for the 2018 CrossFit Games, what would it be and why?

5 Rounds for Time:

  • Row 350m
  • 9 KBS Snatch R 70bs
  • 7 KB Thruster R 70lbs
  • 5 KB Rack Walking Lunge R 70lbs
  • AB 18 Cals
  • 9 KBS Snatch L 70bs
  • 7 KB Thruster L 70lbs
  • 5 KB Rack Walking Lunge L 70lbs

This workout screams Functional Bodybuilding. How good is your unilateral strength? It is also going to end up longer and reward the athletes that understand how to pace.

Have you ever trained in the past with a singular focus on bodybuilding?

The closest I ever got was in college. I was following a Poliquin program called Advanced German Volume Training and eating a lower calories diet to lean out. In the end I was doing too much intensity on too little food and ended up with an injury. I learned a ton from that experience.

Many people that come to CrossFit with a BodyBuilding or Powerlifting background fear losing strength or muscle. Is there anything you can advise to dissipate this fear?

I would just ask them why they want to have more muscle in the first place. Their answers are often different. Someone who wants it to be confident may find that by being able to do more with their bodies functionally will replace that lost confidence. If they are wanting to switch away from their previous sport then something was missing for them. Find out what that is and talk about how they will get it. Muscle can be maintained even doing something like CrossFit and nutrition will play a huge role. But ultimately people have an underlying fear that isn’t just losing muscle and I would work to figure that out.

I save this one in my back pocket too. I have more muscle now than I have ever had in my life. More so than my pure bodybuilding days.

OTHERS QUESTIONS

How has your background as a doctor influenced your own training and the methodology you have developed?

My studies in school, up through completion of 1 year of Medical School, has certainly influenced my training. Mostly it has just given me the tools to evaluate and analyze all I do. I’m constantly learning and trying to better understand the why behind everything I’m doing. This does get taught in medical education.

How do you manage balancing having kids alongside coaching and competing at such a high level? We have many readers at BOXROX that juggle the same pressures and would be highly interested to hear your thoughts.

This one I’m not an expert in yet. My baby girl is only 7 months old and I have yet to compete with a baby in my life. I am running a business, training hard, and juggling family life all together. By no means do I have it figured out. One key I am learning is to continue to be honest with myself. What can I really do without letting anyone down? I have to revise this list over and over all the time. Lastly, it is teaching me patience and humility like never before.

What 3 books would you recommend people read in order to improve their knowledge of training, health and fitness?

  • The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding – Arnold Schwartzenegger
  • The Poliquin Principles – Charles Poliquin
  • The Good Gut – Justin Sonnenburg, PhD

Thanks for your time Marcus, where can people find out more about you and Functional Bodybuilding?

Awaken Training Series is our 12-week online functional bodybuilding program, and we have a free three day sample available here.

Learn more about Marcus and Functional Bodybuilding on his Instagram accounts:

@marcusfilly

@functional.bodybuilding

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About The Author

Editor-In-Chief at BOXROX. I come from a background of rugby and weightlifting. Growing up in the English Lake District, I spent a great deal of time swimming in its stunning lakes and rivers. In 2015 my brothers and I became the first people to swim the 145km length of the River Eden, from source to mouth, in 9 days. We also swam the Corryvreckan whirlpool, the third largest in the world, and Crossfit is a huge part of my training for these events.

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